Hooliganism and the Milosevic of Tripoli

It was probably inevitable, but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has pulled out the Bosnia comparison in reference to Libya. Urging patience, Clinton reminded her audience yesterday that “the United States and other partners bombed targets in Serbia for 78 days,” and that though then–Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic remained in power, the Kosovar people were protected from atrocities. So it is in Libya, where “there are even reports that Kadhafi's forces may have used cluster bombs against their own people.” Clinton sat down yesterday with the Dutch foreign affairs minister, Uri Rosenthal, to discuss ways of pressuring the Libyan leader financially.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen also warned of a long slog. He said that the war was heading toward a stalemate and that Washington has given the OK to using Predator drones in Libya. In a spot of good news, he did note that there was no indication of any “al-Qaeda representation” in Libya at all.

Mullen made those statements in Iraq, where he was speaking to U.S. troops. He also sat down with Iraqi Prime Minster Nuri al-Maliki. Washington is keeping close tabs on the situation in Iraq as U.S. troops prepare to pull out by the end of the year. Maliki made it clear that Iraqi forces can handle security in America’s absence, but officials are still contemplating keeping ten thousand U.S. troops on the ground after the end of the year.

Striking a positive tone, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said yesterday that the U.S. may have “turned a corner” in Afghanistan by year’s end. There are conditions on that turn, of course: “We have driven the Taliban out of areas they have controlled for years. . . . They clearly intend to try and take that back. If we can prevent them this year from retaking the areas that we have taken away from them, and we can continue to expand the security bubble.”

On the domestic front, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters yesterday that Republicans’ attempt to get spending cuts in return for an agreement on the debt ceiling could lead to global recession: “you can't say 'well, then we're just going to let the United States government go into default, tank the economy, send the economy into recession, not just domestically but globally.” He called that kind of approach the “height of irresponsibility.”

Also yesterday, Vice President Joe Biden sat down with Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The two, according to a statement released by the White House, talked about “next steps on missile defense cooperation” as well as Russia’s potential entry into the World Trade Organization. Biden underlined the “continued need for cooperation” between the two countries a day after Putin commented that Washington was “behaving like a hooligan,” citing the administration’s currency policy, budget deficit and debt.

As if the budget, debt, war in Afghanistan, Libya campaign, and so on and so forth weren’t enough on the administration’s plate, European and Arab countries are calling on Washington to step up its peace-process activities. Germany’s ambassador to the UN told the Security Council that “strong U.S. leadership is required” to secure an agreement by President Obama’s September deadline. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said that with all the “winds of change blowing through the Arab world, it is more urgent than ever” and that negotiations are the “only path to a solution.”